Monday, August 12, 2013
The Nature and Purpose of the Atonement
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself his own special people, zealous for good works." Titus 2:11-24; NKJV
We have been considering the subject of "Limited Atonement," the "P" in "TULIP," probably one of the most difficult, complicated and confusing theological subjects. Many Christians dismiss the idea out of hand. In so doing, however, they miss much of what the Bible actually says about the significance of the death of Christ.
In approaching a difficult and controversial subject like this it is important to keep two things in mind. The first is that we must submit our minds to God's Word and try, as hard as we can, to interpret it honestly. Both Calvinists and Arminians have had difficulty on this point at times. The other important thing to keep in mind is that Scripture was given to us for a practical reason. It was not given merely to provide fodder for aimless speculation and debate. Rather, it was meant to show us how to know God and live lives that are pleasing to Him. There is no such things as doctrine without practice or practice without doctrine. The two go hand in hand. Thus to miss the practical application is to miss the whole point of the passage.
And so it is that in his epistle to Titus, when the apostle Paul comes to discuss the nature of the atonement he does so with a practical purpose in mind. He has been exhorting Christians to live godly lives (Tit. 2:1-10), and then, to reinforce his exhortations, he steps back a bit as he so often does, to look at the "bigger picture," and to describe what God is doing in redemptive history. Thus he comes, in the passage before us, to discuss the nature and purpose of the atonement.
The first thing to be noted is that he asserts the free offer of the gospel in verse 11: "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men . . ." Calvin thought, based on the immediate context, that "He does not mean individuals, but rather all classes of men with their diverse ways of life . . ." (comm. ad loc.) This interpretation is certainly possible grammatically, but it ignores the broader context of New Testament theology. The verse closely parallels what Paul himself says in the very next chapter: "But when the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man (Gk. "philanthropia") appeared . . ." (3:4). And again, "Who wants all men to be saved . . . For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all . . . " (I Tim. 2:3-6). In verse 5 the word for "men" (anthropon) manifestly means the human race as a whole. And thus the passage is describing a general love of God toward all mankind, along with a universal offer of salvation.
There is more to the death of Christ, however, than a general offer of salvation to mankind. Verse 14 of our text tells us that it was a ransom or redemption: "who gave Himself for us, that He might us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works."
Redemption involves the payment of a price, and it has the effect of freeing someone from slavery or captivity. In this case, we are ransomed "from every lawless deed," i.e., set free from the guilt, power, and legal claims of sin. Moreover, the effect of this is to "purify" for Christ "His own special people." In other words, redemption has the effect of separating from the mass of mankind a specific group of people and making them Christ's own special possession. Or, to put it another way, to be "redeemed" is to be actually saved, and the Bible never says that Christ redeemed the entire human race. This is why we sometimes call it "Particular Redemption."
All of this has profound implications for us. First of all, redemption creates a moral obligation to serve Christ. If He purchased us with His with His own blood He owns us: we are His. We are freed from our former servitude to sin, but we owe our freedom to Christ. Because He died for us, we ought to live for Him.
But particular redemption also puts the believer in a peculiar relationship with the world. In "the present age" (v. 12) the broad mass of mankind still lies under the bondage of sin. They are part of a social system that is ultimately under the control of Satan himself. The redeemed, however, are no longer a part of that system. And so there is tension and conflict – a personal and moral conflict between the redeemed church and a corrupt and depraved world.
It is these two basic facts, our obligation to serve Christ and our separateness from the world, that shape the characteristic features of the Christian life. It is a life of conformity to the will of God, and it is a life of nonconformity to the world. On the one hand the Christian rejects the false values of the world, with all its tinsel and tawdriness, and on the other hand he seeks to live a life that is pleasing to God.
The Christian "denies" the values of the world, which are marked by "ungodliness," the utter disregard for God and His laws, and by "worldly lusts," the obsession with pleasure, power and material gain. To all of these the Christian says "No!" These values are false and ultimately destructive, and the Christian rejects them.
Rather, the Christian is called upon to live "soberly, righteously, and godly." He is to think clearly, rationally, and realistically. He is not swayed by fads and crazes. Rather he practices what is right, sensible, and good. He lives "righteously," doing what is right in the sight of God and what is fair to his fellow man. And he lives "godly," or "devoutly," as it might better be translated. His life is consecrated to God, Whom he worships and obeys out of a filial love.
Moreover, the Christian does all of this with an eye towards the future. He does not live for any benefit he hopes to gain in this life, but rather he looks forward to "the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ" (v. 13). It is the Second Coming of Christ alone that holds any hope for the redemption of the world system at large. And the Christian endures all manner of suffering and hardship in this life in the confident expectation that he will receive his reward in the age to come.
Why would a Christian want to live this way? Look at Christ hanging on the cross. He "gave Himself for us" (v. 14). He gave Himself – He sacrificed everything; He gave up His very life. And He did this "for us." We were the objects of His dying love; we were the objects of His saving grace. But why? Why would He do such a thing? What objective was of such paramount importance that He would go to such a great length to serve it? The answer is, "that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works." In other words, He bought us for Himself and died to make us holy. Thus we owe it to Him to live for Him.
What is involved then in the atonement is the fullness of salvation. It is not just a fire insurance policy for the worldly minded. It is more than just a legal transaction erasing our guilt. Rather it is God's glorious work of redemption in which He reclaims from a lost and dying humanity a segment to be His own redeemed people. It is incumbent upon those redeemed people to display the reality of redemption in their lives. In so doing they will bring glory to the God Who redeemed them.